The New Steinway Spirio and Daily Telegraph Article

Two blog posts rolled into one today! Firstly, I was delighted to be invited to write an article for the Daily Telegraph, commenting on concert violinist Nicola Benedetti’s recent article about whether children should be made to play an instrument or not. Benedetti is a wonderful advocate for music education, and works tirelessly for the social music programme Sistema England, I nearly always agree with her hard-line (but necessary) ethos on music study, but in this case, perhaps children shouldn’t be ‘forced’ to play music or have instrumental lessons, but rather ‘motivated’ to play. See if you agree with my opinion here!

Last night, I attended an exciting landmark in the history of Steinway pianos; the unveiling of a new instrument. Held at the beautiful Serpentine Sackler Gallery in Hyde Park, London, with its breath-taking and unique modern art, providing the perfect back drop for this new venture. The first new Steinway instrument for over seventy years, the  Spirio is essentially a player piano (pictured below).

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Using the finest technology, the new instrument is controlled via an iPad (provided with the piano),  and it’s possible to play back performances. So whether you fancy recording yourself playing, or whether you want to hear a performance of a particular concert artist, this is sure to appeal to those who perhaps enjoy playing as a hobby and aspire to hear great players ‘performing’ on their instrument at home. Apparently, some concerts will be made available for purchasers to download and enjoy; namely those by Chinese superstar pianist Lang Lang, who will be recording his next Carnegie Hall recital using this instrument.

The Spirio is available on two models; the model O and B, and last night we savoured performances on model Bs. Once the electronic device is switched off, the splendid Steinway instrument reverts to its acoustic self.

The evening kicked off (after copious, wonderfully extravagant cocktails and canapés), with a performance by British pianist Simon Mulligan (pictured playing below), who delivered two pieces; Chopin’s Grande Waltz Brillante in E flat major Op. 18, followed by a suitably jazzy, effervescent arrangement of Fly Me To The Moon by Bart Howard. After the performance took place, Simon left the stage, and we listened to a second ‘performance’ of Fly Me To The Moon, which had been recorded and was now being played back.

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I find piano keys moving up and down on their own a bit unsettling and even creepy (always have), but this idea, whilst not a new one, will no doubt prove popular with Steinway lovers. The final flourish appeared on the big plasma screens erected behind the piano. A film of George Gershwin playing I Got Rhythm was synchronously played with the Spirio. The great composer’s ghostly (but great) performance rang out and the piano keys danced tumultuously, receiving a rapturous applause!

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Another Spirio model B, was placed in a different area of the gallery, which guests could hear whilst admiring the modern art. The Spirio is certainly a beauty. I like the fact you could ostensibly record the secondo part of a piano duet and play it back, whilst playing the primo part. This device may also be useful for singers or instrumentalists who could play back piano parts during rehearsals.

www.steinway.co.uk


My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.

Review in Faber Music’s Pianofforte Magazine

Pianofforte 2014 cover

I’m very excited to be included in Faber Music’s Pianofforte Magazine. This magazine is designed for piano teachers, students and all those who are interested in music education. It is a yearly publication and offers plenty of information about various books, scores and everything related to piano study. In the magazine, I review Chinese concert pianist Lang Lang’s new series of piano books, mastering the piano, which are graded from 1-5 (on pages 8 & 9 of Pianofforte), I also briefly review Simultaneous Learning: The Definitive Guide (page 3) written by master educator, Paul Harris .

You can read the mastering the piano review by clicking on the PDF link below.

Pianofforte Magazine Review


My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.


Faber Music launches the Lang Lang Piano Academy

Chinese concert pianist Lang Lang has already become a legend in the world of Classical music. He has many fans in the West, but he’s also developed a colossal  following in the Far East, which has directly increased the Chinese appetite for Western Classical music and more specifically, the demand for piano lessons. More than 40 million children are now learning to play the piano in China due to the ‘Lang Lang effect’ (as it’s affectionately known). He has attained rock star status and Time Magazine recently included Lang Lang  in the “Time 100”, the Magazine’s annual list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World.  So when an illustrious concert pianist teams up with a highly esteemed publishing company, the results can be stratospheric.

I was invited to attend the launch of Lang Lang’s new Piano Academy; a series of piano books entitled Mastering the Piano intended for young learners, published by Faber Music. Held at the intimate 1901 Arts Club in Waterloo, London, the event was beautifully arranged with an impromptu performance and talk by Lang Lang himself. He chatted informally about the reasons for collaborating with Faber Music and described it as a lifelong ‘dream’ to produce a series of books such as these. His heart genuinely lies in music education, and for me, this really is a joy to behold; Lang Lang takes the time and opportunity to highlight and endorse the importance of playing the piano, and more importantly, playing it effectively.

Glossy, clear and concise, the books are well presented and volumes (or Levels) 1, 2 and 3 are first to be published, with 4 and 5 following later in the year. They focus on ‘how’ to play and are not a piano method per se, as the sub-heading clearly states ‘Technique, studies and repertoire for the developing pianist’. Starting at around Grade 1/2 standard up to around Grade 4, there are plenty of photos, demonstrations and advice from Lang Lang regarding how to tackle various techniques and styles of music. Copious piano pieces, exercises and studies infiltrate the pages, with lots of superlative practice and preparation ideas from correct posture and hand positions, to the importance of rhythm and hand coordination.

The launch began with a performance of the Burgmüller Arabesque, from Level 2, after which Lang Lang explained a few vital points concerning fruitful, positive practice. I was delighted he spoke so eloquently about Scales. A pet hate for many students, but as he demonstrated, they are the bedrock of excellent, even piano playing and must be worked at thoroughly, diligently and consistently (he practised them for an hour and a half a day apparently!).  Practice ‘features’ or techniques are arranged in chapters (or units); Level 3 contains ‘Exploring the keyboard’, ‘Developing dexterity’, ‘Introducing the pedal’, ‘Chords’, ‘Playing in new keys’, which appear with corresponding advice based around certain relevant pieces and exercises. This is all very useful for those just getting to grips with assorted techniques.

The repertoire in each Level is extremely varied, from Scarlatti, Beethoven, Gounod, Grieg, Schumann, and Kabalevsky, to Chinese works arranged for the instrument, as well as pieces and arrangements by favourite contemporary composers and music educators (Paul Harris, Pam Wedgwood and Alan Bullard). I like the inclusion of lesser known composers, such as Bertini, Dunhill, Czerny, Heller, and Gurlitt, who wrote excellent little piano studies for young pianists. In Mastering the Piano, these pieces are assiduously examined, and a wealth of tips and practice suggestions are added at the beginning. Each chapter is preceded by a ‘Message from Lang Lang’. Thoughts on memorization was another illuminated topic at the launch, and Lang Lang emphasised the study of J S Bach’s piano music to help establish this elusive skill, in order for it to become a ‘normal’ part of piano performance.

It’s not unusual or indeed unexpected for musicians to be influenced by other art forms, but Lang Lang specifically mentioned the significance of paintings and sculpture for capturing a musical mood. Appropriate paintings are reproduced as a reminder. He finished the presentation by playing a Chinese work entitled Jasmine Flower, a traditional Chinese Song (from Level 1), followed by the ever popular Rondo Alla Turka or Turkish March from Sonata in A major K. 331 by Mozart, for which he received a rapturous reception.

These books will no doubt prove popular with a plethora of pupils (of all ages) who want a learning ‘tool’ for help and guidance, as they work to develop a fluent technique and greater musical understanding. They are not designed to replace the piano teacher, or to be a specific ‘method’ studied alone, but rather to be incorporated with other materials to attain a whole and well-rounded piano education. To this end Lang Lang and Faber Music have done a sterling job.

After his presentation, the Chinese pianist posed for countless photos, chatting to everyone in the room; for a superstar with a tight schedule (he had two further engagements after this lunchtime event), his kindness, sincerity and modesty are indeed remarkable. Many congratulations to Faber Music for such an innovative project which will hopefully be the start of a great musical relationship.

Mastering the Piano Series

Image above: Faber Music

Lang Lang 3

Image: Lang Lang performing at the 1901 Arts Club in London. © Melanie Spanswick


My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.



The Importance of Master Classes

It was a delight to be invited to give a master class for EPTA (the European Piano Teacher’s Association) in Brighton last Sunday. The special event entitled  ‘Young Pianists’ Performance Day’ was the first of its kind, and was superbly organised by pianist and teacher, Helen Anahita Wilson, who holds the Regional Chair for EPTA. Our venue for the afternoon, The Friends’ Meeting House (pictured below) on Ship Street, was resplendent with a Yamaha grand piano and ample space for an audience.

A master class or workshop is essentially a public lesson; the actual definition (according to the Oxford Dictionary) is ‘a class, especially in music, given by an expert to highly talented students’. Classes such as these can be very useful; you don’t have to participate to learn, in fact, those who observe can often absorb more, purely because they haven’t got to worry about the stress of performing. Public lessons have been popular for many years and are frequently associated with ‘star’ performers or celebrity teachers. Most world-class artists, from the late great  ‘cellist Jacqueline Du Pre to current star Chinese pianist Lang Lang, have all at some point given master classes or public lessons, and those who participate invariably come away with greater knowledge and inner confidence.

There were two halves to my class; the first consisting of young players from around age 6 to 10 years old, and the second featured more experienced pianists most of whom were preparing for exams from around Grade 7 to Diploma level. I have given public classes before and have always enjoyed the experience very much; it’s important to share knowledge and it’s  immensely satisfying helping pianists of all abilities achieve their goal, whether that be passing an exam or to carry on improving.

The smaller pianists played a pot-pourri of arrangements and exam pieces, whilst the more experienced class presented a myriad of composers and works; Handel’s Allemande from Suite No. 12, Mozart’s Sonata in C minor K.457 (first movement), Chopin’s Nocturne in F minor Op. 55 No.1, Debussy’s Deux Arabesques, Shostakovich’s Lyrical Waltz, MacDowell’s To A Wild Rose, and Brubeck’s Take Five. Being a ‘Performance Day’ rather than a straight class, the pianists all played their entire piece or pieces first and I wrote a comment sheet for each one, in a similar way to a festival (although this wasn’t a competition, so marks were not awarded), then at the end of the mini concert, each participant came back to the piano and we started work.

One of the great aspects of classes such as these, is the performance practice instilled in all participants. I have written about the perils of performing and how to combat nerves many times before on this blog, but the act of ‘getting up and doing it’ cannot be underestimated. Most of the performers gave very competent, confident performances, but for those who weren’t so happy with their efforts, they can take heart from the fact they took part, because that, in itself, is an accomplishment. This is the reason ‘Performance Practice’ sessions such as this one are so crucial, they play a very important role in the development of young players and must be encouraged. EPTA are a wonderful organisation who do much to promote the advancement of young pianists by holding copious workshops and performance opportunities all around the country.

One interesting feature running through both classes was the similarity of piano playing issues; many young pianists have related concerns and this isn’t always due to having the same teacher (several different teachers had entered pupils at this master class). Larger tone production, more musical line and the balancing of sound between the hands, as well as sound projection, needed addressing during many of the sessions. Each pianist responded very well (it’s never easy having to change or adjust in public and at once) and there was definite improvement at the end of each participant’s class.

Using the body effectively for good tone production is crucial, so we worked on this issue and spent time exploring ways to employ arm weight, use wrists flexibly and keep shoulders down. Raised shoulders is a frequent problem especially when nerves come into play. Technicalities such as these can’t be solved in a single master class but it is possible to make students aware of these underlying matters so they can be addressed in lessons.

One other facet which ran through both classes was the subject of rhythm; it’s always a biggie and affects virtually everybody at some point or other. I have written before about sub-division of the beat; this can be one of the most compelling and potent methods of keeping and staying in time. It’s all very well using a metronome (which can be very useful incidentally), but if the beat is broken down into smaller denominations, then students are able to learn to account for every note thus neither rushing ahead or pulling behind the beat. Sometimes it can be helpful to count aloud, and this was what we did a couple of times – complete with audience participation!

Audience members consisted mainly of parents, siblings and teachers, and many remarked how much they had enjoyed and learnt by attending. For those who have never been present at their child’s lessons, this type of session can be a revelation. The whole event was great fun and I wish EPTA Brighton the best of luck with their future piano events.

www.epta-uk.org


My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.


Vanessa Latarche in conversation with Melanie Spanswick

My Classical Conversations Series is celebrating its first birthday today! I started this series with Ukrainian concert pianist Valentina Lisitsa, whom I met in Cardiff on a very cold and wet day, before she performed Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto for Radio 3’s Children in Need concert; you can enjoy our interview here. My twenty-fifth interview features British concert pianist, Head of Keyboard and Professor of International Keyboard Studies at the Royal College of Music, Vanessa Latarche.

After studying at the Royal College of Music and completing her training in the USA and Paris, Vanessa was awarded many scholarships and prizes from international competitions. She has performed as a soloist with international orchestras and those in the UK including   the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, BBC Concert Orchestra, BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra, Bournemouth Sinfonietta, working with many leading conductors.

Vanessa’s recital work has taken her to Europe, USA and to the Far East, as well as many festivals within the UK, including Cheltenham, Harrogate and Huddersfield. Her interest in Bach led to a performance of the complete 48 Preludes and Fugues at the Lichfield International Festival in 1992, the performances being given over four consecutive evenings.

She has broadcast for over 30 years for BBC Radio 3 and has also broadcast extensively on the BBC World Service and BBC Radio 4. She has been a juror for international competitions in Serbia, Italy,  New Zealand, and Hong Kong and has adjudicated the national keyboard final of the BBC Young Musician of the Year, which was broadcast on BBC television. In 2007 she was an advisor to the BBC TV programme “Classical Star”.

Since September 2005 she has been Head of Keyboard at the Royal College of Music having been previously a professor of piano at the Royal Academy of Music for fourteen years where she was made an Honorary Associate in 1997.

Vanessa frequently travels to give masterclasses, not only in UK conservatoires and specialist music schools, but also to such institutions as Hong Kong Academy for the Performing Arts, Tokyo College of Music, Beijing Central Conservatory, and Seoul National University. She is also a frequent visitor to Lang Lang’s music school, Lang Lang Music World, in Shenzhen, China where she has recently been appointed as a Vice- Chairman.

With many international piano competition prize-winners amongst her students, Vanessa was nominated for the FRCM, Fellowship of the Royal College of Music, for outstanding services to music which was conferred on her by HRH Prince of Wales in May 2010. In September 2011, Vanessa was appointed to the role of Personal Chair at the RCM, which has given her the title of Professor of International Keyboard Studies.

And the transcript, for those who prefer reading interviews….

Melanie: “British concert pianist and professor of piano, Vanessa Latarche, has performed extensively. She’s in demand as an examiner and adjudicator worldwide, and she’s head of keyboard and chair of professional keyboard studies here at the Royal College of Music in London.  And I’m delighted that she is joining me today for one of my Classical Conversations. Welcome!”

Vanessa: “Thank you, Melanie.”

Melanie: “Lovely to be chatting here with you today.”

Vanessa: “And you, too! Great.”

Melanie: “I’m going to start by asking you all about your musical education: how old were you when you started, what was the catalyst, whether you come from a musical family.”

Vanessa: “Right. Well, my mother, actually, is a piano teacher. And, in fact, she used to teach at the Junior Royal College of Music here years and years ago. But, as a child I suppose, I started at the age of nine, which is quite late.”

Melanie: “It is, yes.”

Vanessa: “You know, especially these days, when people tend to start much, much younger. But, before that, I was very interested in ballet. Still am actually, love ballet. And, as a teenager, went through, but realized very young that, actually, I wasn’t going to be able to be a ballerina. I was too big for that.”

Vanessa: “So, it’s one of my passions, but anyway there we are. I love music, of course, all the music and choreography and everything that went with it. My grandfather was – my mother’s father – was a piano- I suppose what you would call him these days- a piano technician. Although, in those days, they used to balk at any idea of that name. And so, he was a piano maker, worked for Bösendorfer’s actually, Monington and Weston’s the British  piano makers, though sadly no longer with us. And, he had this wonderful piano at home, because of my mother. He would encourage me to play and, even though I was dancing, my real passion was the piano. I would see it there and kept on trying to play by ear, and he would teach me things by ear and by rote. So, eventually, he and my mother decided that that was it. You know, get piano lessons. Get them sorted and, in those days, I picked up, I think, quite quickly. I think one of my biggest claims to fame in my life is that I managed to get through Mini Steps Book 1 in a week. Anybody who knows me will know that that is a hilarious story from my first teachers. Big claim to fame.”

Melanie: “So, which teachers then do you think were fundamental in your development as a pianist?”

Vanessa: “Well, I always think that the first teacher is probably the most important in development. How you set – Everything’s set up for you pianistically, and the most inspirational and formidable lady that I learned with Eileen Rowe in Ealing.  She teaches you – She taught you about sound and how to develop good sound quality. She was an amazing woman and a spinster and a big lady, but she really would work on sound as at the heart of what you did. And I suppose that to me was one of the most important aspects – still is to me – in my own teaching. And I still reflect on how she teaches these days. So, that was for a while. Then, I had a few lessons for a couple of years with Christopher Elton, and I came to the Royal College, and I studied with Kendall Taylor, who’s very interesting man to learn with. Beethoven specialist, of course. And then, when I left the college, I went to Alexander Kelly, who, I think, was one of the most inspirational teachers and somebody who could just bring you out of you.”

Melanie: “That’s interesting. Yeah, a lovely man.”

Vanessa: “Wonderful person and, it was just who I needed at that time. I think if you find the right teacher at the right time – that’s probably one of the crucial elements about finding the right teacher. It’s not necessarily the right teacher for you for your life, but it’s the right time of your life.”

Melanie: “Yes. So, how did you develop your technique?”

Vanessa: “Oh, difficult question. Well, I wasn’t brought up on sort of Hanon.”

Vanessa: “It wasn’t one of those things that I was drilled in. In fact, I suppose if anything, from the early days, always encouraged to play pieces rather than studies and to develop your technique around – you know, find the technique to fit the piece, as it were.”

Melanie: “Right.”

Vanessa: “But, later on, realized when you become serious in the teenage – teen years, that you actually have start learning and start doing some proper technical work I suppose. But technique, I suppose, can really encompass a lot things. And, it doesn´t necessarily mean playing fast does it? It’s how you do something. How you articulate. How you express, actually.”

Melanie: “So, you did a lot of competitions I think, when you were younger?”

Vanessa: “Yes.”

Melanie: “Do you think they were important? And, crucially, can they still establish a concert pianist today? Or do you think we’ve moved on from that? Are they still important?”

Vanessa: “That’s, I suppose, a loaded question.”

Melanie: “It is rather yes. Sorry.”

Vanessa: “No, it’s fine!”

Vanessa: “No! No! No! We often talk about it here at the college, and I’m very interested in the competition circuit. When I was in my teens, I used to do. As a kid, I used to do a lot of piano festivals. That was a thing. I loved doing it. It was an opportunity to perform, something that you could learn your repertoire for. It was a carrot at the end of everything.  You think ‘oh good’ I could play it in the festival. A very, very good performance experience. I still believe in the festival movement very strongly.  As regards International competitions, then, of course, I did quite a lot of those. With a mixed kind of response and that’s where I learned that, you know, there are many, many opinions on piano playing and what’s good and what isn’t. And it was a bit of a shock to me in the beginning, I think. But then, it was a very steep learning curve. And then, I appreciated that. Actually you know – You have to – There’s a sort of competition animal out there. And you get – You develop your ability to learn fast, to retain a lot of repertoire in your head, your memory. Some people tend to hike the same competition repertoire around all the competitions, and you know jury members often – I sit on juries myself now – you often hear some people play some pieces for years and years and years, and they don’t change very much. They just kind of suitable for a competition. So, it’s really interesting. I do think the value of competitions is important. I do think in a young professional pianist´s life, the piano in competition has its place. I think it’s very important to try them. Not everybody will be successful, and often the most individual people are not successful. Yeah, but often they are, you know. And sometimes, they go into a competition for the very first time and come out with the big first prize, and that, someone like Perahia for instance, and that does indeed, in those days particularly, launch their careers. It still does, to some extent, if there’s a very very special personality behind the player.”

Melanie: “Yes.”

Vanessa: “But, there are many competition winners, and of course, you’re only as good as until the next competition. And then, somebody else comes around and wins it. But, it still helps to launch solo careers, but you need much more versatility, as I’m sure many people tell you that, and you know anyway”

Melanie: “Yes. Which composers do you love to play?”

Vanessa: “Well, I’ve always been in love with Rachmaninoff and Russian and romantic repertoire. All the Rs. But, I suppose nowadays my slant has gone more to Bach and Baroque music, and I’ve just always been excited by Fugues.”

Melanie: “I remember that.”

Vanessa: Do you?”

Melanie: “Yes, yes you often played him – the Bach Preludes and Fugues”

Vanessa: “Yes, it’s not. It’s just something- how funny that you should remember that, must be something strange in my brain! ”

Melanie: Definitely, because I remember you playing on Radio 3, they are not easy to remember.”

Vanessa: “I make no, no apologies for playing with music these days.”

Melanie: “Yes.”

Vanessa: “Yeah, it’s not a problem as long as you play it well, that’s what matters.” But, I’m actually fascinated by the textures and complexities and the way that they develop. It’s not a form, it’s a device, and how they build. So yes.”

Melanie: “Yes, do you have a particular practice regime?”

Vanessa: “What a good question! I used to have, when I didn’t have this job. Now, with this job, which is full on”

Melanie: “Yes.”

Vanessa: “I practice as and when I can. If  I’ve got something really important coming up, I try and practice very early in the morning. At least I have a couple of hours of me time and space in my head. Because balancing a lot of things, as I do, is important to be true to yourself. So, the beginning of the day has always been a good time for me. So, early in the morning, before I come into the college. Oh, sometimes when I come in and put the blinds down and say, “Go away for a bit, I’m doing my stuff.” That’s it. And then, occasionally late at night as well. It’s very – It is difficult, and I’ve always always start with scales, if I did nothing else – I start with scales – I know I said I didn’t have any sort of technical training, but I always do about 20 minutes worth of scales. It keeps you keep a little bit more lithe”

Melanie: “Well, you’re head of keyboard here at the Royal College. What is it that you love about teaching, because you’ve taught for many, many years?”

Vanessa: “Yes, I have – I gave you some lessons”

Melanie: “You did indeed, a long time ago! We won’t talk about that! It’s too long ago!”

Vanessa: “Well, it’s always been a passion, as well as playing the piano. It’s always been very important to me, to nurture someone else as well as bring them, you know, along. And, I suppose, what I love about it – I love the communication. I love seeing somebody develop. I particularly – I’m very interested in teaching all people of all levels, but, you know, it’s at the college now there are some very special talents, and it’s just amazing to see them fly.”

Melanie: ‘You’re also Vice-Chairman of Lang Lang’s new music school in China. That’s fantastic, many congratulations!”

Vanessa: “Thanks.”

Melanie: “And you have worked a lot in the Far East. What are the differences in the approach to music between the Far East and here in the West?”

Vanessa: “Well, it’s – first of all, it’s a real privilege to be vice-chairman of his school because it’s in Shenzhen. It’s a piano school basically, and as you can imagine, the facilities are marvelous, and the students are great, and it’s only been going for two years. They’re really developing and working well. And my role there is an advisory role, I suppose to some extent. I go and give classes and train the teachers and help them develop. The work ethic in China and the far East in general – but particularly in China – is extraordinary. The students will practice for hours, even from little, little tots. So, I see a big development in them very early. They go forward very fast. Technically, they move forward fast. What they need help with and advice is in the big cultural divide. And I’m not saying that we know everything. We don’t. But, we can learn a lot from them, because they have this tremendous skill and also a real facility for playing the piano. There’s something about the work that they do that gives them a tremendous amount of polish and sparkle and brilliance.”

Melanie: “Yes.”

Vanessa: “What we can give is poetry, inspiration, culture, and background. So, I suppose, it’s very interesting when you see students that come to the college from different backgrounds. And they might come from a background where they have been maybe drilled, you know?”

Melanie: “Yes.”

Vanessa: “And not have quite so much exposure to art and culture. And then you have – you might have people from Europe – I don’t know – from America maybe even, that have had a lot of exposure to art and culture, but maybe not the – and this is big generalization, so you know, don’t quote me on this, or anyone. They may not have the same kind of discipline or have the same regimen, as it were. And – same as eastern European- you know, they have both kind of this tremendous determination and drive and technical foundation with also a huge foundation of culture. So, you know, when you get a combination of everything, then that’s when you get the real stars.”

Melanie: “What are you looking for when a young student comes to audition here?”

Vanessa: “Potential. Now, how do you judge that? Really hard. Thought about that long and hard for many, many years, and it’s something that, you know -You still sit at an audition, and you still think, “Goodness me! How far are they going to go?” But, you get a nose for it Melanie.”

Melanie. “Over the years?”

Vanessa: “Yeah, you do, and you get sort of a feeling for a personality. If there’s a person inside there, this personality within in them that you could really unlock, and you think, “Yes, this person has a bit – has something about them. They might have entrepreneurial skills or they might have something that’s just a little different. And, of course, we’re looking for a basic level of great foundation as well. Too often you get people who are unaware of the standards now, and in an international institution such as this. When I was a student here – which was a long time ago, probably also when you were a student here as well.”

Melanie: “Absolutely, it’s quite a different standard I think.”

Vanessa: “Yeah, well, I didn’t think it was a different standard. I think it’s more a different make-up of the student body. So, there are different elements to it. When I was here studying, there were basically English people studying with occasional overseas students.”

Melanie: “When I was here, it was about 50%, 50 to 60 %.”

Vanessa: “Right. Oh, okay. That’s interesting. So, it’s developed further than that now.”

Melanie: “OK”

Vanessa: “In my faculty, we’ve got 160 students. Very big – very, very big faculty and I think, probably- I can’t remember how many there are – but probably about 75 are from overseas. That means outside of the EU, and then there – We are a lot from the EU as well: France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Greece. So, it’s very interesting, the mix of students. So, although it might not seem as if we’re supporting our own as much, they’re in a different field. They are having to compete internationally at audition. Perhaps when I was here, they were certainly not having to. That’s the difference.”

Melanie: “Which venues have you loved playing in?’

Vanessa: “I love the Wigmore Hall, always come back to the Wigmore Hall. It is just so wonderful. The sound is wonderful. The feeling of intimacy, but it’s big. It’s the classic shoebox shape. It’s a wonderful, wonderful hall.”

Melanie: “What exciting plans have you got for the future?”

Vanessa: “Gosh! For the future? Well, I suppose to continue to develop myself in terms of my repertoire, because you’re always learning. To continue learning from my students, which I do learn – I hope – as much from them as they learn from me. I hope so. I like to think I do, because there’s never ever the same person that walks through the door. It’s always a different issue with a student, always problems – sometimes in terms of talent – so you have to handle it. It’s very, very interesting. To develop a little bit more with my work with Lang Lang’s school, and try to incorporate them here with bringing them here, and have them come play for us actually, and to keep that liason and collaboration going.”

Melanie: “What does playing the piano mean to you?”

Vanessa: “I used to say that I was married to piano, and I suppose now I would say it’s my life blood. It’s what makes me tick. Music, not necessarily the piano. And I don’t know – If that was taken away from me, I don’t know what I’d do.”

Melanie: “Thank you so much for joining me today.”

Vanessa: “Pleasure, thank you.”


My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.